LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Representing four Arkansas women, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas today filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting that a monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the State Capitol violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas and asks the court to declare the monument unconstitutional.
“The courts have been clear that the First Amendment protects religious freedom and prohibits the government from engaging in this kind of overt and heavy-handed religious favoritism,” said Rita Sklar, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “By endorsing a specific set of religious beliefs on government property, Arkansas politicians are violating the constitutional rights of the people they’re supposed to serve.”
The plaintiffs in the case are Donna Cave, Judith Lansky, Pat Piazza, and Susan Russell. All four are members of a walking and cycling club in Little Rock whose regular routes include the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol, where they are now confronted with the Ten Commandments monument. Three of the women identify as agnostic and one as atheist.
“This monument is a government-sponsored religious shrine, and it sends a divisive message that the state endorses a specific religious doctrine to the exclusion of all others,” said plaintiff Donna Cave, a retired teacher who is agnostic. “As someone who is agnostic, this endorsement by the state of one religious belief over my own makes me feel like a second-class citizen. Government officials shouldn’t be in the business of dividing people along religious lines — they should represent everyone.”
The lawsuit asserts that the monument on public property at the Arkansas State Capitol is government speech that violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and requests that the court declare the display unconstitutional.
“Religious liberty is the right of every American to follow their beliefs without the government butting in,” said Sklar. “When government officials take sides in matters of religion, they alienate those who don’t subscribe to that particular set of beliefs and undermine everyone’s right to religious freedom. Arkansas politicians are once again using public property to promote their personal religious beliefs at the cost of Arkansans’ fundamental rights.”
Citing the First Amendment, which states that the government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the lawsuit seeks to have the monument removed from the capitol grounds and the Arkansas Ten Commandments Monument Display Act declared unconstitutional.